Last week we spoke with beauty YouTuber Ingrid Nilsen who shared how she feels about young people and the bombardment of images via social media. "It makes them feel like life is a competition and love is a competition, and that beauty is a competition. It’s not." And she's right.
This is not an uncommon sentiment among women, both in their businesses and personal lives. We've rejected the notion that there is a limited amount of success and we're redefining that success on individual levels. Ingrid echoed this idea as well, telling us that, "I don’t equate being at the top with my success. I felt really successful from the beginning.”
But when it comes to business, especially when it comes to making money or inching someone else out, we've all gotten a little too kumbaya with it. Hear us out.
HEALTHY competition is important. It's vital to the advancement of ideas and breaking through our own limitations. If other people weren't "better," we would never push to be better either.
I started thinking about this while watching Simone Biles, gymnast extraordinaire, after her “low-scoring” balance beam routine on August 15th at the 2016 Rio Olympics. During the routine, Biles stumbled and touch the beam with her hand to prevent falling off. Instead of nabbing her fourth gold model, she took bronze (nothing to snuff at). Her teammate Laurie Hernandez, took silver. Simone was over-the-top happy for Laurie and the placement for U.S.A., but in a single blink she also revealed that she saw her teammate as competition-- in this instance the woman who scored higher than her. There was no ill-intent. Nothing malicious or malingering, but rather it was a healthy reaction that reminded Simone (and me) that competition is important, gold is not a given and that work is always necessary.
In this (also important) battle rally cry to support and uplift other women, we’ve forgotten that competition is OK. More than OK really. If we as women are all team U.S.A., happy and supportive when our teammates win, we should also each be the individual athlete, able to compete for the “gold,” in our careers.
We should be fueled by the women who are better— whatever your definition of better may be. There are going to women who get the job we want, who are paid more, who get the book deal, the brand partnership, the gold medal when we don’t even place. This is great news. If the highest wave floats all boats, someone has to be the highest wave.
There is, likewise, a building notion, budded by that Madeline Albright quote (‘there is a special place in hell for women who don’t support other women) that Albright herself has said was taken out of context.
The idea that women need to empower each other is correct, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t disagree with each other, or offer opinions that push against the tide. Why is it no longer OK to disagree with another woman without being shut down? Or called out?
Do we not see men as competition? I spoke with a male owner of an events and marketing company to get his take. “Do you see other men as competition?”
“You should see others as competition,” he said “but mix it with a bit of humility. With my company specifically, I know we could hire a Social Media Director and do all parts of a project. Or we could bring in someone else who can do it better. That way there's more for everyone, as opposed to everyone doing more. Everyone has their own limitations. The goal in the beginning of my business was to be so 360 that we took all the money and figured out how to do it afterwards. Now it's about taking the right money and building your business from there."
"At the same time, I'll look to the right or left or me, and there are people doing much better. They are the competition. But I ask myself, how many hours are they putting in? Success and competition is not just about a bank account."
His is what I'd consider a healthy approach to business. "Success to me is to work 50 great hours a week and enjoy 70 percent of my work. If I'm hitting those numbers it's easier to not look to the left or right and be frustrated."
Creating a community does not mean creating homogenization, where we are responsible for agreeing, helping, and supporting all women, all the time. Movements do just that (move) by their ability to pivot and shift. Competition is part of this. It moves us forward.
So let's move forward with a little bit of heat and humility.